What to Consider When Hiring a Texas Divorce Lawyer
Divorce is one of the most difficult and painful events that can happen to you. Separating from a spouse means uncertainty about where you’ll live, what your kids are doing when they’re not with you, even who will continue to be your friend. Even in an amicable separation, there are feelings of loss; you’ve lost the potential of a life-long marriage, in-laws whom you may have respected and full-time custody of your children.
Fear of what might happen—and concern that you’re being taken advantage of—are terrible burdens to carry. When a divorce is contested in Texas and you find yourself in the midst of a battle, you may feel extremely alone in the eye of the storm. That’s why you need a compassionate, understanding, and competent divorce lawyer who can help you with a fair and equitable division of property and create a reasonable custody plan to best protect your children.
Whether you just need an experienced legal advisor to help you over each hurdle, or a tough negotiator who will fight for your rights, Frank J. Vendt, Jr., is the attorney to call in the Richmond, Rosenberg, Katy, or Sugar Land, Texas, community. As a father who has gone through the trauma of divorce himself, Frank understands what you’re dealing with, and knows the difference a trusted ally can make during this trying time. For a consultation, call the Vendt Law Firm, P.L.L.C., at (832) 276-9474, or contact us online to schedule a consultation.
Our Results in Divorce Cases
Divorce can be extremely simple: you file the necessary paperwork and you’re no longer married. However, most divorces have some component that requires more attention to reach an agreement; and, of course, if some or all of the issues can’t be settled, the divorce process can go to court.
Most people in the midst of a painful divorce wish to keep the outcome of their cases as private as possible. Successful divorce cases, unlike the high damages recovered in personal injury cases, aren’t something that law firms typically brag about. However, The Vendt Law Firm, P.L.L.C., has an excellent track record in achieving reasonable and fair outcomes for clients, whether that’s a financial settlement, division of property, or a custody agreement. We do everything we can to keep our clients out of court, but if you have to appear before a judge, we’ll be by your side.
What Is a Petition for Divorce? Terms You Should Know
To get divorced, one party in a marriage must file a petition for divorce. This starts the whole process by indicating who the parties getting the divorce are, why they are divorcing, and what involvement the court is requested to take.
A counter petition can be filed by the responding spouse, which corrects (from their point of view) any issues with the original petition.
An uncontested divorce is one where both parties agree to make arrangements and negotiate in good faith. These types of cases are quicker, as they don’t end in trial. In contrast, a contested divorce is when the two parties don’t agree and cannot reach a reasonable agreement, so the case must go to court.
The court may grant temporary orders to help guide the two parties while the divorce is taking place. These orders could indicate who will live in the couple’s house, how visitation will be handled and what child support should be paid.
Child custody details, including who will make decisions regarding the child in areas like religion, health care, and even extracurricular activities, are formalized in what’s called a parenting plan. The court must approve a parenting plan before it becomes legally binding. To change anything related to custody, a new parenting plan must be filed with and approved by a family law judge.
What Are Grounds for Divorce?
When filing a petition for divorce in Texas, the petitioner has to include the grounds, or reason, for the divorce. You can have a fault or no-fault divorce case, with the latter commonly proceeding on the grounds of “insupportability.” In other words, the two partners in the marriage are no longer compatible, but there’s nothing specific to blame for the separation.
Divorces for fault may cite one of the following:
- Cruelty – abuse toward the petitioning spouse
- Abandonment – not living together or in contact for at least 1 year
- Living apart – the two have been in separate residences for at least 3 years
- Conviction of a felony – the other spouse committed a criminal act
- Confinement to a mental hospital
In cases of divorce for fault, the petitioning spouse must prove that the reason is legitimate. By proving the reasons for the divorce, you may earn certain advantages in how property is divided and whether or not you can receive spousal support. However, you will have to make certain facts about the marriage known in court records, which can be difficult and embarrassing. An attorney can help you determine whether a no-fault or fault divorce is best for your circumstances.
Divorce Cases in Texas: How the Process Works
The process of filing for divorce in Texas can vary, but most have several elements in common. A typical divorce case might look like this:
- One spouse files for divorce. This involves creating a legal petition to dissolve the marriage. The spouse who did not file receives a copy of the petition for divorce.
- The responding spouse has to sign a Waiver of Service to move the case forward. Sometimes court orders may be needed to ensure safety or stability for one of the spouses. In these cases, a hearing is held in front of a judge, who determines if the temporary order is really necessary.
- The attorneys involved in the case conduct discovery to determine exactly what property the divorcing couple owns and what debt needs to be shared.
- Now comes the tricky part: The two parties need to decide on the division of property and of debt. This step may involve a great deal of negotiation and, if so, you’ll be happy to know you have an experienced Texas divorce lawyer on your side. Usually, offers will go back and forth until all the objections are worked out. If the two sides are too far apart to negotiate in this way, they’ll need to go to a mediator until there’s an agreement.
- The two parties will have to work out a similar compromise when it comes to custody, or conservatorship as it is called in Texas. A parenting plan must be created that lists how parental visitation and decision making will work going forward. This plan will need to indicate whether parents will split time and decisions equally, which is called joint-managing conservatorship (JMC), or if one parent will have greater visitation and legal rights.
- If mediation fails to produce an agreement, the divorce case will go to trial.
- Once the agreement is reached—whether through negotiated offers, mediation, or trial—the decree of divorce paperwork is created.
- You’ll have a hearing for your divorce, which is granted in almost all cases.
This process can vary slightly depending on whether the divorce is a no-fault or at fault case, as well as whether it is uncontested (generally, in an uncontested case, there is no need for extensive negotiation or mediation). Your attorney can explain how your case may differ from this process.
What Are Typical Outcomes in Divorce Cases?
Most divorce cases are all about compromise. When two people are emotional, as is common during legal proceedings, it can be challenging to find common ground. Working with a skilled lawyer who has experience dealing with tough situations and getting to a compromise can be key. Typically, divorce cases end with a relatively equitable division of property and parental rights.
In some cases, spousal support will be awarded. The amount determined varies, but is limited under Texas law to less than 20 percent of the wage earner’s gross income for periods of as long as three years. Spousal support is most often awarded only to partners who were married for more than 10 years and have some type of physical or emotional condition that makes it impossible to work.
A non-custodial parent will often be told by the court to pay child support. Like with spousal support, the amount is based on monthly gross income, but the exact percentage depends on the number of children to support. To support one child, the non-custodial parent may have to pay up to 20 percent of his or salary; parents of five or more children could pay as much as 40 percent of monthly wages. Health insurance may be required in addition to regular monthly payments.
What if one party doesn’t interact with the other at all? If you’ve served your spouse with a petition for divorce, and a counter petition or response is not filed in return, you may be able to get a default judgment that gives you all the terms you’ve requested. As you can guess, these types of settlements are rare.
How Do Those Involved in Divorce Cases Try to Get an Unfair Advantage?
Unscrupulous former spouses can try numerous tricks in an attempt to improve their standing in divorce court. This can make the divorce more contentious, and keep you off-kilter as you don’t know what to expect next; you may feel you’re being denied your fair share.
These tactics to get an unfair advantage may include:
- Hiding or trying to hide assets. This can be financial accounts or property. The court may apply sanctions or financial penalties to people who try to do this and are caught.
- Alleging abuse or neglect. To gain the upper hand in child custody cases, one parent may claim the other was abusive. Without documentation, it’s unlikely to make these charges stick. Also, if one parent encourages a child to lie in court, it can actually reduce that parent’s rights; courts do not look favorably on parents who needlessly draw the child(ren) into the adults’ dispute.
- Assigning debt to the marriage that is not actually incurred jointly. A skilled attorney can help make sure you’re not responsible for debts you didn’t personally take on.
- Using threats. One party may threaten the other with physical or financial harm if they don’t take specific actions. This creates a situation of duress, and is usually illegal.
If you suspect your former spouse is trying to take advantage of you, it’s imperative that you call a divorce attorney in Texas as soon as possible. A skilled lawyer can help you unravel the deceit and fraud that your former partner is attempting to use to his or her advantage.
How Much Will a Divorce Lawyer Cost Me?
Some lawyers charge a flat fee for uncontested divorces, where both parties agree to a settlement with a minimum of issues. This can range from $200 to $1,500 depending on your assets and custody issues. In more complex cases, lawyers will charge by the hour, and that can range from $250 to $450 for a possible total of several thousand dollars. An average contested case that requires several hours of negotiation and going to trial can run from $10,000 to $20,000.
In divorce and custody cases, you usually pay your lawyer up front in what is called a retainer. At The Vendt Law Firm, P.L.L.C., we understand the pressures on people who are going through a tough divorce with uncertain financial arrangements. Schedule a consultation to get an estimate on the cost of your case and to discuss payment options; we understand the challenges of navigating a difficult divorce, and are always willing to work with clients to achieve a fee structure that is reasonable.
Steps to Take if You’re in a Divorce
You may have been expecting a petition of divorce for quite some time, or you may have been completely caught off-guard. Maybe you were the petitioner, but your spouse has sent a counter petition and shows signs of instigating a contentious case.
If you’ve received a petition of divorce, it’s important to secure quality legal help as soon as possible. Divorces can vary widely, and it’s important to get good legal assistance as soon as you can, whether your case is contested or uncontested. Call the Vendt Law Firm, P.L.L.C., at (832) 276-9474, or contact us online to schedule a consultation.